Vacancy PhD candidate Moral Compass Project

For Spinoza, God and nature (the laws of nature) coincide. Reality contains an inherent structure that can be understood by people who can think in freedom. Through reason, they will understand the order in nature and also come to know the good. In the nineteenth century, various theologians and philosophers were however convinced that – in Christian terms – God and world do not coincide, but are distinguished (or are also distinguished). Can the notion of God as an Other help us in our reflection on human freedom and the human inclination to the good? At the PThU, we are looking for a PhD candidate who is interested in these questions. As a PhD candidate, you are part of the Moral Compass Project.

About the Moral Compass Project

In 2019, the PThU received a major grant for the ‘Moral Compass Project’, a seven-year systematic-theological research project. The ‘Moral Compass Project’ explores how one can meaningfully think about a moral compass that transcends our personal preferences in a situation of moral pluralism. What significance could a ‘moral compass’ have for our human knowledge and experience of the ‘good’? How does a transcendent ‘Good’ relate to ‘good’ that people can discover and experience by themselves? Can we speak meaningfully about the ‘good’ as something that precedes our human understanding of morality, while at the same time it needs to be discovered anew in new situations?

The Moral Compass Project consists of six sub-projects, three of which are on the level of (meta-) ethical theory (1, 2, 3), and three which investigate the fundamental questions in relation to a concrete field of life (4, 5, 6.). From 1 February 2021, we are looking for a PhD candidate for the third project, ‘The Nineteenth-Century Spinoza Dispute as a Challenge for Today.’

Your job  

As a PhD candidate you will work at our location in Amsterdam (under current circumstances due to Covid-19, you will work at home most of the time). You participate in biweekly meetings with the Moral Compass research group. Your research will be conducted under the supervision of Prof. Maarten Wisse and Prof. Rick Benjamins, with whom you will have a monthly consultation. In the first year of your research, you start with writing a research proposal based on the research project as described below. There is room for creativity within the focus of the Moral Compass project as a whole.

About the Project: The Nineteenth-Century Spinoza Dispute as a Challenge for Today

The philosopher Spinoza (1633-1677) reflected extensively on ethics and gave it a place in his view on the relationship between God and the world. Two centuries after his death, his philosophy was at the centre of a fundamental debate through the deep influence his thought had left on society and culture. For Spinoza, God and nature (the laws of nature) coincide. Reality contains an inherent structure that can be understood by people who can think in freedom. Through reason, they will understand the order in nature and also come to know the good. In the nineteenth century, various theologians and philosophers reflected on Spinoza’s thought and attempted to develop alternatives. A number of these nineteenth-century intellectuals, in both German- and Dutch-speaking territories (incl. Schelling and Jacobi, and in the Netherlands J.H. Gunning Jr.) were convinced that – in Christian terms – God and world do not coincide, but are distinguished (or are also distinguished). To their mind, the freedom Spinoza so cherished is only possible when someone stands opposed to us. We can only truly become who we are when we are addressed by an Other. In his work, Gunning showed a deep understanding of how Spinoza’s thought was being developed into a worldview in his time.  

The present project has a twofold goal: to understand how Spinoza’s nineteenth-century critics used his thought to engage their culture, and to “repeat” that nineteenth-century debate in our present context. Nineteenth-century intellectuals undertook their dialogue with Spinoza under the conditions of their own time and developed their theology on the basis of an understanding of God and the human being as “person”. That personalism has since come into decline. At the same time, a leading current in philosophy and neuroscience denies that human beings can think truly freely, charging that people are always already determined by external factors. This current does have various critics, however. German philosophy, for example, has developed several arguments that draw deeply on nineteenth-century thought, but apply the notion of an Other constituting us in new ways. Can the notion of God as an Other help us in our reflection on human freedom and the human inclination to the good? These issues are broached in this sub-project, which also seeks to make a constructive contribution of its own.

Requirements

  • a degree in theology with a relevant (research) master’s programme, or an equivalent of it
  • a MA-thesis in the field of systematic theology, theological ethics, or another relevant discipline that shows affinity with the project described above
  • affinity with theological research from the profile and perspective of the Protestant Theological University
  • the ability to interpret sources accurately and to relate them to topical issues and debates in society at large
  • the ability to make creative connections based on this analysis of sources with the questions that are central to the 'Moral Compass Project' about the recognisability of the good and the transcendent or divine character of the good, with a view to making a constructive contribution to this project
  • good knowledge of German is an advantage, as is knowledge of the philosophy of the nineteenth century, especially German idealism

Your application should be accompanied by a first draft for a research proposal (max. 2 pages), written in English. We assess the proposal on its quality, innovative character, viability and the extent to which it fits in our research programme.

What do we offer?

At the PThU you will work in an environment that characterised by an fascination for what belief and religion actually mean for people. From that fascination, we conduct relevant academic research on the developments in society and church also worldwide. In our education programmes we train students to be the future ministers of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands as well as general theological experts, and provide post-academic training for ministers and chaplains.

We offer our contract PhD candidates the following:

  • You will receive an employment contract of 1.0 fte (full-time equivalent) for one year. After a positive result of the assessment of progress an extension of 2.5 to 3 years will be offered.
  • Your salary will be according to the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (salary scale P). This starts from a gross salary of € 2,395 per month in the first year of employment to a maximum gross salary of € 3,061,- per month.
  • 70% of your commuter travel costs will be reimbursed (public transport, 2nd class). Costs for business related trips will be reimbursed 100%  (public transport, 1st class).
  • You will have a specific budget for conference and symposia participation as well as for any other competence training activities.

Want to learn more about the application procedure or the position?

Contact Dr. Maarten Wisse, maarten.wisse@pthu.nl .

Would you like to apply for this job?

Would you like to apply? Please send us your motivation letter, research proposal and curriculum vitae to sollicitatie@pthu.nl.

Deadline for applications is 29 November 2020. Job interviews will be held on 7 & 16 December at the PThU location in Amsterdam, or through video connection for international candidates.

Our working conditions are primarily governed by the collective labour agreement of the Dutch universities/Protestant Theological University.  

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